Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Filipina singer makes history in South Korea


By JONATHAN M. HICAP
Manila Bulletin
SEOUL, South Korea - Filipinos have immense talent in singing but carrying a tune in a different language is another story altogether.

Mary Viena Tolentino Park (center) with her husband Park Jong Woong (right)
and mother-in-law Son Sok Cha (left) in Seoul. (Photo by Jonathan Hicap)

Mary Viena Tolentino Park's winning performance on
KBS 1TV National Singing Contest

Mary Viena Tolentino Park
For Mary Viena Tolentino Park, 27, a native of Bulacan, she found success in South Korea through joining different Korean singing contests that brought her glory, and meeting and marrying a loving Korean husband.
Last Dec. 25, Viena made history in South Korea when she became the first foreigner to win the “daesang,” or grand prize, in the 2011 KBS 1TV National Singing Contest finals, which was broadcast on popular Korean TV station KBS.
The singing contest, emceed by veteran Korean actor and TV presenter Song Hae and announcer Park Un Yong, has been held for the last 50 years and is considered as Korea’s longest running TV program.
Twenty finalists, including Park, qualified from among the 140 weekly winners of the contest in the past year. During the contest, she was declared as the winner among the July to November 2011 finalists.
In the final round, she faced Korean Won Jing Kyong, the winner for the January to June 2011 period.
Park sang the Korean song “Azalea” (originally by Korean singer Maya), which won her applause and cheers from the audience.
In the end, MC Song Hae announced her name as the champion. For her feat, Park won 5 million won (P191,000).
In an exclusive interview in Seoul, Park told the Manila Bulletin about her life in Korea, how she started joining Korean singing contests, and how she met husband.
She said she first came to South Korea in 2009 to work and in September 2010, she met Park Jong Woong, a manager at a clinic in Chuncheon, Gangwon province.
“He started texting and calling me,” she said.
They didn’t meet again until she became sick with cough and told him that she would go to the clinic for checkup and examination. This once again sparked Jong Woong’s interest in her.
“Dun ulit kami nagkita. Nagte-text ulit. Tumatawag tapos nagyaya na kumain sa labas. (That was the time that we met again. He started texting and calling again and asked me to have dinner with him),” Viena said.
Little did she know that he was already falling for her.
After her work contract in Korea ended in December 2010, she told him that she was going back to the Philippines. To her surprise, he said he would go with her.
When he met her parents in Bulacan, he asked their permission to marry Viena.
On Dec. 30, 2010, Viena and Jong Woong got married in the Philippines.
Viena said she thought hard about getting married but eventually decided to go for it.
After his “pamanhikan,” they started processing her papers so she could go back to South Korea as his wife.
“I didn’t know that he brought with him all the necessary documents needed for our marriage,” Viena said.
It took her five months to process all the documents including renewing her Philippine passport and using her husband’s surname for the first time.
She came back to South Korea on May 19 last year and finally met her parents-in-law. They got married again through a traditional Korean wedding in September last year.

Success in contents
Viena said she learned how to speak Korean by reading Korean language books, watching Korean dramas and movies and enrolling in a basic Korean language class while there.
She said she started learning how to sing when she was only six years old and joined contests in Bulacan. In fact, in high school, she became the provincial champion in a singing contest.
She first joined a Korean singing contest in June last year at the Shinsegae shopping mall in Incheon. Luckily, she finished in second place and 500,000 won (P19,000).
This started her string of achievements. In July, she joined the weekly elimination of the KBS National Singing Contest where she won first place and 1 million won (P38,000).
Last September, she joined the Migrants Song Festival in Changwon in Busan province where she won a consolation prize.
The following month, she also won in the 11th Incheon Soraepogu Festival.
After her win, she was awarded a document by the Korean Singers Association to signify that she is now a certified singer in South Korea.
Viena is happy that through her triumphs, she brought pride to her husband and parents-in-law, her family back home and to Filipinos in South Korea.
This also led to her being invited to perform in various events.
To add another feather in her cap, she was awarded a medal of recognition last December by Mayor Cho Yoon Kil of Ongjin-gun for bringing pride and recognition to Incheon.
Her next project is to join the audition in February for the “Super Diva” singing contest for married women on tvN Channel in Korea.

Plans for the future
As for their plans for a family, Viena said, “We are planning to have a baby but I will be enrolling in a nursing assistant course in March.”
She said she never imagined that she would achieve success in Korean singing contests.
 “I couldn’t believe it. I never thought that I would reach this level,” Viena said.
Viena is open to becoming a mainstream artist in Korea if an offer comes her way.
“If I will be given the chance by a company, I will be the first foreigner to go mainstream and sing in Korean,” she said.
For now, she is very contented being a wife to her husband and enjoying her life in South Korea.
“I’m very happy that I have a loving husband and wonderful parents-in-law who have shown me so much care and support. I couldn’t have achieved all these without the support of my families in South Korea and the Philippines. I consider South Korea as my second home and I’m proud to be a resident of this country,” Viena said.

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